Ian Carlson

2017 Comes to a Close

Rate this Entry
For just the second time since 2003, the MIAA season came to an end during the quarterfinals of the playoffs. It was also just the second time in that span where there was not a playoff game featuring an MIAA team and the last teams playing were in bowl games, with 2014 being the other year in that timeframe. Oddly enough, that year was also the first time since 2008 that we had a new National Champion in the division, and we are guaranteed to have a first time champion this year. It’s even quite possible that this year’s winner will hail from a conference that has never won it before, joining the NSIC’s 2008 UMD team and the RMAC’s 2014 CSU-Pueblo team. Those (along with UMD’s 2010 team) are the only champions that did not hail from one of the Big Four conferences since 1982, with the Big Four being the GSC, GLIAC, MIAA, and the now-defunct NCC. From 1983 to 2007 the National Champion came from one of those four conferences. The GLIAC’s Northern Michigan won the title in 1975 (the third ever D2 title) and the LSC’s Southwest Texas Sate (now known as just Texas State) won back to back titles in 1981 and 1982. Every other champion from 1973-1980 came from a team and conference that has since moved to Division I before the Big Four took over. If IUP wins on Saturday, this year’s title matchup will join the 2014 National Championship game as the only one since 1982 that did not have a single team from one of those conferences. The fact that the parity we saw in the MIAA this year has apparently extended to Division II as a whole is quite the coincidence. It sure made for a fun year in our league, and it should make the last three games in the playoffs a lot of fun, too.

With the 2017 MIAA season officially in the books, I’ll take a look back at the season for each team, the AFCA All-American selections, as well as voice my opinion on the annual questions of whether the conference is up or down and where it ranks amongst the other conferences. Before I do that, though, here’s what happened in the four bowl games last week:

Mineral Water Bowl

Minnesota Duluth 28
Central Missouri 38

The Bulldogs were one of the hottest teams in Super Region 4 coming into the game, having won their last eight games, the best streak of any team in their region with at least one loss at the end of the regular season. They rode that momentum to a big first half lead in this game, going into the locker room up 22-10. The Mules got on board first on a 47 yard TD drive on their second possession of the game, capped by a 24 yard touchdown pass from Brook Bolles to Jovante Sigler with 5:21 left in the opening quarter. The Bulldogs answered right back, driving 75 yards in 11 plays and taking an 8-7 lead after a 2pt conversion, and two possessions later went up 15-7 after another long drive ended in the end zone. The Mules answered with a field goal on the ensuing drive to make it 15-10 with 3:40 left in the second quarter, and after the two teams traded punts, the Bulldogs took over at their own 20 with 1:13 on the clock. A 26 yard completion on the third play of the drive gave them the ball on the UCM 43 yard line, and three plays later they were facing 4th and 7 with about 20 seconds left. Too far away for a field goal attempt, the Bulldogs decided to go for broke, and an ill-timed jump by a UCM defensive back in front of him allowed the ball to fall in the hands of Bulldog Dominic Bonner inside the five yard line. Bonner fell into the end zone after the catch to give the bulldogs a two score advantage at the break. In the second half, the Mules came right out and drove the length of the field on their opening drive to make it 22-17, but the Bulldogs answered right back with a touchdown of their own. However, the UMD holder couldn’t corral the ball on the PAT attempt, and the score remained 28-17. Another mistake on special teams by the Bulldogs occurred on the ensuing kickoff, as Jaylen Zachery took the ball 100 yards to make the score 28-23. Head Coach Jim Svoboda elected to go for two to try to cut the lead to a field goal, but Bolles’ pass fell incomplete. After a quick three and out by the Bulldogs, the Mules needed just two passes to retake the lead, as Bolles hit Kyrion Parker for 30 yards on the first play and finished it off with a 29 yard pass to Seth Hebert on the next play. Again, Svoboda elected to go for two, and this time a pitch play to Koby Wilkerson crossed the goal line to make the score 31-28. The Mules D played bend but don’t break from then on, as after a 40 yard TD run by Bolles a couple possessions later made the score 38-28, the Bulldog’s last threat to score was thwarted when a UMD receiver fumbled the ball at the UCM one yard line into the endzone, and the Mules got the ball back on a touchback with 4:44 left and ran out the clock from there. The Bulldogs outgained the Mules 528-495, with 449 yards coming through the air on an incredible 57 pass attempts, but the second half was all Mules. In fact, the Mules could have had ten more points on the board, but a pick six was taken off the board when UCM defensive back Tyron Taylor celebrated too early, and normally reliable kicker Alex Langer missed a field goal in the fourth quarter (he also missed a field goal attempt after the pick six penalty). Brook Bolles passed for 281 yards and two TDs and was also the leading rusher on the day with 82 yards and a TD. The Mules finished 9-3 for the second year in a row, winning nine games in two straight seasons for the first time since the 2002 and 2003 campaigns.

Corsicana Bowl

Central Oklahoma 38
Tarleton State 31

The Bronchos got to play their old LSC rivals in the inaugural Corsicana Bowl, and the 3422 in attendance were treated to a great game. In last week’s preview, I thought the passing attack of UCO would be a big advantage for the Bronchos, but it turned out that they didn’t need to use it all that much. Chas Stallard completed 18 of just 24 attempts for 165 yards and a touchdown, and while JT Luper had nine catches on the day, they only resulted in 49 yards. The reason the passing numbers were so low was the Bronchos pretty much ran the ball at will on the Texans. They ran the ball 50 times for 384 yards, averaging an incredible 7.7 yards per carry and helped the Bronchos to a 16:10 advantage in time of possession. As it turned out, that was probably the difference in the game, as the Broncho defense allowed 7.3 yards per play, and was able to stop the Texans on half of their possessions (5 of 10). Of course, the Texans had even more trouble, allowing 7.4 yards per play (yes, the passing numbers brought the UCO average down!), and could only get stops on three of the Bronchos’ nine full possessions (the Bronchos had kneel downs on the last possessions of each half).

The game was a back and forth affair, with eight lead changes and a tie once the scoring started. The Bronchos had the only score of the first quarter on a 37 yard Austin Dodd field goal after the two teams traded punts on their opening drives of the game. Tarleton answered with a 12 play 74 yard drive that ended with a 25 yard TD pass to take their first lead 7-3. The Bronchos went right back down the field in ten plays (two passes and eight rushes), covering the last two yards of a 72 yard drive on a Chandler Garrett run, and after forcing a three and out, Garrett again capped a long drive (two passes, seven rushes) with a short TD run to put UCO up 17-7. After a hold on the ensuing kick return pushed them back to their own eight yard line, the Texans then went on a 13 play 92 yard drive (converting three 3rd down conversions) to get back within three points right before halftime. The Texans retook the lead on the opening drive of the third quarter, needing just three plays to cover the 65 yards to the goalline, finishing with a 12 yard TD run by Zavier Turner. Each defense got a stop on their opponent’s next possession, and UCO reclaimed the lead when Bruce White broke free for a 55 yard TD run to make the score 24-21. Again, Tarleton needed just three plays to answer, going 75 yards on three running plays (the latter two going for 40 and 30, respectively), and this game was turning out to be a game just like what we used to see in the LSC back when the MIAA was in the same region. Not to be outdone, UCO used three runs and four passes to get back on top, the last 42 yards coming on a pass from Stallard to L’lliot Curry, and the Bronchos led 31-28 with 2:57 left in the 3rd. After the Texans tied the game up on their next drive, UCO once again answered with a touchdown drive (7 rushes and three passes), with Stallard getting the last 13 yards on a run. The UCO defense finally settled in after that, getting a stop in four plays on the next drive, and the offense drove 71 yards in 12 plays before Dodd missed a 31 yard field goal with 2:04 to play. A lot of times, this leaves the door wide open for a team to come back down and tie the game, but the UCO defense wanted no part of that. On the fourth play of the Texans’ last drive, Omari Cole picked off TSU QB Zed Woerner, and the Bronchos lined up in victory formation on their way to their 6th straight win. Tarleton dropped to 6-6, but played the game to a much closer margin than I thought they would. White finished with 216 rushing yards, and Stallard added 108 on the ground to help UCO to their second bowl win in three years. In yet another parallel to 2014, the Bronchos finished 8-4 to tie their best mark since joining the MIAA.

Agent Barry Live United Bowl

Pittsburg State 48
Arkansas Tech 31

Like the Mineral Water Bowl, this game was a tale of two halves, and the first half was pretty ugly for the MIAA team. The Wonder Boys apparently did not receive the memo that the Gorilla defense had been playing very well for several weeks, as they scored on their first four possessions on their way to 303 yards of offense and a 23-0 lead before they finally were forced to a punt in the second quarter. Meanwhile, the Gorilla offense was also having difficulty, being forced to punt three times and Jared Vincent missing a 44 yard field goal on the Gorillas’ second possession of the game. Once the Wonder Boys finally had to punt, though, the Gorillas got some great field position as Austin Panko returned the punt for 17 yards to the ATU 39 yard line. Michael Rose then had three straight runs, gaining 12, 13, and 14 yards to finally get on the board with 10:50 left in the 2nd quarter. The Gorillas forced their second straight three and out with zero net yards allowed, but the offense could only gain 8 yards before punting the ball back to ATU, who then drove 58 yards in 13 plays to take a commanding 31-7 lead with just over a minute before halftime. Here is where the Gorillas of the last five games of the regular season took over. After a touchback on the ensuing kickoff, John Roderique ran the two-minute (or one-minute, rather) offense to perfection, completing all seven of his passes on the 75 yard drive, the last of which being an eight yard touchdown to freshman Brendon Franklin to make it 31-14 at the break. I’m not sure what was said in the locker room to the Gorilla defense, but they responded very well in the second half. After allowing 375 yards in the first half, the Gorillas allowed just five first downs (three on one drive), 64 yards and zero points in the second half. Meanwhile, the offense responded as well, being forced to punt just one time in the second half, and scoring touchdowns on the other five possessions to win the game decisively. The Gorillas gained 319 yards in the second half to finish the game with 556 yards to ATU’s 432. Both teams ran the ball very well, with the Gorillas gaining 290 yards (6.9ypc) to ATU’s 220 yards (5.5ypc), but the difference in the game (apart from the 70 yard advantage on the ground) was the efficiency of the two teams in the passing game. The Gorillas completed 66% of their passes for 266 yards and two TDs, while Ty Reasnor had a bit more difficulty, completing just 46% of his passes for 212 yards and two touchdowns. Both teams were led by a back that averaged 7.4 yards per carry (Michale Rose had 157 for PSU and ATU’s Bryan Allen led all rushers with 167 yards), but the Gorillas were able to generate rushing yards from a variety of players, with eight players getting positive yardage on the day. The Gorillas won their sixth in a row to finish 8-4, while the Wonder Boys lost their second in a row to end their season with the same record.

C.H.A.M.P.S. Heart of Texas Bowl

Washburn 41
Angelo State 25

Coming into this game, I thought this was a bad matchup for the Ichabods, as the Rams were very good at throwing the ball this year, while Washburn had shown throughout the last half of the season that they had troubles in stopping the pass. Well, while the Rams ended up outgaining the ‘Bods overall by a 409-404 margin, it wasn’t until they were down 38-10 and gained 131 yards on their final two drives in garbage time that they were able to do so. The Ichabods forced 4 turnovers (and gave up one) and of ASU’s 17 offensive drives, the ‘Bods stopped them on 13 of them, including 13 of 15 drives in the first three quarters. The game was a bad matchup indeed, but in the opposite way of what I was thinking. Washburn intercepted Jake Faber three times, including a pick six by Peter Pfannenstiel that put the Ichabods up 14-3 halfway through the second quarter. Pfannenstiel had another interception earlier on ASU’s second drive of the game, and Josh Wright got a second pick six in the third quarter against a QB that had only thrown four interceptions in his seven games on the year to put the Bods up 28-10. On a day when their offense was about average relative to the rest of their year, the Washburn defense was dominant for three quarters before the 66 and 65 yard drives by the Rams made the score look much closer than the game really was. Blake Peterson completed 53% of his passes for 251 yards and a TD, and he finished second on the team in rushing yards with 41 and another TD. Mickeel Stewart led the ‘Bods rushing attack with 55 yards to help the team finish with 153 (3.7ypc) for the game. The Rams did have success on the ground, gaining 174 yards on 40 carries (4.4ypc), but their inefficiencies in the passing game hurt them badly. Faber finshed the game completing 42% of his passes for 202 yards with a touchdown along with the three interceptions, but had just 93 yards passing on 10 for 30 passing before the final two drives. Washburn completed the MIAA sweep in the bowls this year and improved to 7-5, while the Rams dropped to 6-5 to end their year.

MIAA Players on the AFCA All-American Team

Five different players were named to the AFCA All-American Team, announced on Wednesday, with three getting First Team and two being named to the second team:

First Team:

Seth Hebert, TE, UCM
Nathan Shepherd, DL, FHSU
Marcus Jones, DB, NWMSU

Second Team:

JT Luper, WR, UCO
Justin Marcha, P, ESU

To me, having Luper on the second team is a bit of a joke. All he did was lead Division II in both catches and receiving yards, and tied for 14th in receiving TDs. I could see APU’s Weston Carr being on the first team since he was third in receiving TDs, but Luper had far better production than West Alabama’s Donta Armstrong in every category. To be completely honest, Armstrong is so far down on every statistical list, I can not figure out how he earned first team. About the only advantage he might have is that UWA made it to the second round of the playoffs, while Luper’s team made a bowl game. Still, the individual accomplishments of Luper far outweigh those of Armstrong, and it’s yet another reason why I do not put a whole lot of stock into anything coming out of the AFCA. I can’t really argue that anyone was left unjustly off the list, though, as the rest of the skill positions on offense were pretty deep this year.

The Strength of the MIAA Debate

For the better part of the last decade, the MIAA has been regarded as one of the best leagues year in and year out (along with the GSC and GLIAC) in Division II. College football is very cyclical due to the relatively high turnover that occurs on every team each year, and when you lose a significant percentage of your team to graduation every year (amongst other losses), a program (or programs) usually fluctuates in its relative strength. Obviously, the same holds true for a conference. Every year, debating the strength of conferences is a hot topic on the message board, both between fans of teams in different leagues as well as fans of teams within the same league. This is especially true in the MIAA forum, where it is pretty much an annual tradition for the members to discuss whether or not the MIAA is down. The topic is a fun one to discuss for many reasons, but one of the main reasons is that what constitutes “up” or “down” can vary from person to person. For instance, some people believe that if the conference doesn’t contend for a National Championship, then that means the conference is down (and to those people, that would definitely be the case this year). For others, the “up” or “down” is a comparison of the league now to the league itself 5, 10, or 20 years ago. While I think those are fair comparisons (and I have used those comparisons in these debates myself from time to time), to me, when I think of the league as being “up” or “down,” I’m usually comparing the strength of the MIAA to the strength of the other conferences in the Division. To be fair, some of that certainly includes the aforementioned contender comparison, as that can be an indicator of the strength of the league vs other leagues due to playoff performance, but it certainly isn’t the end-all-be-all that some make it out to be. I don’t believe for a second that anyone knowledgeable about D2 football thought that the RMAC was a premier league in 2014. Rather, they had the best team in the land that year, since CSU-Pueblo was the National Champion.

Obviously, the MIAA did not come close to winning the National Championship this year, failing to win a playoff game for the first time since 2003, and both of the playoff games were losses to GLIAC teams. Does that mean that the GLIAC was the stronger conference? I don’t think so. Now, I am not saying the GLIAC wasn’t the better conference this year….all I’m saying is the two head to head matchups is not enough proof in my eyes to say with a good degree of certainty (which, truth be told, is extremely hard to have in D2 anyway with the insular scheduling of so many conferences---including the MIAA). While the playoff results are certainly a feather in the GLIAC cap, the MIAA went 4-0 in the bowl games. Let’s take a deeper look at those matchups:

The Mineral Water Bowl featured an 8-3 UCM (the 3rd place MIAA team) against a 9-2 UMD team (who tied for third, but lost head to head to the other 3rd place team-Sioux Falls-so I’m giving them 4th place). The game was ugly for the Mules in the first half, but they dominated the second half, which is what I would expect in a #3 MIAA vs #4 NSIC matchup….considering Minnesota State’s performance in the playoffs (an OT win against a #7 team that got in via Earned Access, a dominant win over the undefeated LSC champ, and a surprising ten-point loss to the LSC runner up--all of which were played on their home field), this game is a push in that I don’t know that it really swings the pendulum one way or the other.

The Corsicana Bowl featured a 7-4 UCO (who tied for 4th, but lost to Pitt, so I’ll make them 5th) against a 6-5 Tarleton State (who tied for 4th, but beat Angelo State so I’ll make them 4th by themselves). This one is tough because TSU played National Semifinalist TAMU-Commerce to within 12 points and lost in overtime to LSC Champ Midwestern State, but they lost to 9-2 Eastern New Mexico (certainly not a bad loss) and to 4-7 Western New Mexico (certainly not a good loss). Meanwhile, UCO was competitive in every game, losing to the two MIAA playoff teams by a touchdown each and their other two losses were to Pitt (certainly not a bad loss) and to 4-7 MoWest (certainly not a good loss) by a total of seven points. Considering the entire Body of work, I’ll give the MIAA a couple points for “up” here.

The Live United Bowl featured a 7-4 PSU (4th in the MIAA, as mentioned earlier) against 8-3 Arkansas Tech (tied for second place, but lost to Harding, so I’ll make them 3rd). In a game that was a perfect microcosm of their season, the Gorillas started out poor and finished great against a team that theoretically should have beaten them…especially considering Harding is a semifinalist that beat the team that beat Fort Hays. Again, a couple points for “up” here.

Finally, the Heart of Texas Bowl featured a 6-5 Washburn (tied for 6th but lost to ESU, so I’ll make them 7th) against a 6-4 Angelo State team (who was the 5th place team with their loss to TSU). Washburn dominated the game, giving the MIAA some more points.

So, three games saw the lower-placed MIAA team beat a higher-placed team from another conference, two playoff losses against the same league, and the Mineral Water Bowl didn’t provide any clear evidence. Considering Emporia State finished 6th after winning three playoff games over the past two years, it is evidence that they are part of a strong league. The GLIAC may have been more top heavy, and their top 3 teams were likely better than the MIAA top three teams, but I don’t think their league was as deep as the MIAA. As far as the GSC goes, to me, the jury is still out, as West Florida seems like a Cinderella, and if the GSC was as tough as it is supposed to be, they shouldn’t have done as well as they have in just their second year in existence. They did paste Wingate in the opening round of the playoffs (and they get big points for doing so), but their other non-conference games were against 7-4 GLVC team Missouri S&T (a 20-16 win) and 4-6 SIAC team Chowan (a 51-23 win). (Note: they had a game scheduled against Midwestern State, but it was cancelled due to Hurricane Irma.) The GSC also benefits by playing in a much weaker region (the SAC hasn’t won a playoff game since 2013, and Tuskegee from the SIAC has one win against the GSC and a couple wins against SAC teams since, the only playoff wins for the SIAC since 2010). So, in my estimation, the league as a whole isn’t down, even though the top of the league certainly was. Despite their recent struggles the past few years, when Missouri Western is your eighth place team, you know you’ve got a tough league.

A Look Back at My Bold Predictions in the 2017 Preview

In the first blog of the season, I made ten bold predictions (just as I did a year ago). Let’s see how they turned out:

1. The Bearcats will not break GV’s record of 40 consecutive wins.

True. In the middle of the Gorilla’s turnaround six game winning streak to end the season, they stopped the Bearcat winning streak at 38.

2. There will be co-champions this year.

Nope. The Tigers ran the table and won the MIAA title outright for the first time in school history, becoming the fourth outright champion not named PSU or NWMSU since 1989.

3. Someone other than Braxton Marstall will lead the MIAA in total offense.

True. UCM QB Brook Bolles not only led the league by over 300 yards, he led the entore nation, averaging 360.2 yards per game.

4. UCO will rush for 2500 yards this year.

Nope. They lost their top two running backs Clay McKenzie and Jake Gandara to injury, and the freshmen trio of Jake Standlee, Chandler Garrett, and Bruce White (along with QB Chas Stallard) helped the team finish with 2186 yards. (PSU was the only team to break 2500 yards rushing on the year, and UCO finished 6th.)

5. Lindenwood finishes 5-6.

Nope. But the Lions were just a game away at 4-7. They had a 10 point lead in the 4th quarter against UCM in the season finale, but couldn’t finish it out.

6. UNK finishes 3-8.

True. The Lopers tripled their win total over the previous two seasons combined with wins over Missouri Western, Missouri Southern, and Northeastern State.

7. The MIAA will not win the region.

True. For just the second time since 2003, the league didn’t even get a team to the regional final.

8. Fort Hays goes to their third straight Bowl game.

Nope. Instead, they made it to the playoffs and to the second round by earning the top seed and a bye.

9. Last year’s trend of overall declining defense will reverse this year

True. Despite a couple teams having rough years on that side of the ball, the league finished 2017 allowing 391.80 yards per game and 27.74 points per game. In 2016, the league allowed 411.45 yards and 30.33 points per game.

10. Six different teams will be ranked in the top 25 at some point in the season.

Nope. Five teams made our poll (FHSU, NW, UCM, WU, and ESU) but neither PSU or UCO could crack the Top 25 after their 2-4 starts.

I did a little better this year, getting them half right (compared to just three last year). Considering the wildness of the year, I will take it.

My Final 2017 MIAA Rankings and Thoughts

1. Fort Hays State (11-1)

No question they should be here, as they ran the table, winning the conference by a two game lead. They were easily the most balanced team in the league because they could run, pass, defend both, and played well on special teams, too. Even though they had a disappointing loss to Ferris State in the playoffs, the team laid a great foundation for the future. The next step is a playoff win, and the next step back the program takes will be the first under Head Coach Chris Brown.

2. Central Missouri (9-3)

Looking back to the preseason, I sure would not have been surprised that UCM would end up here. They are always very good on offense, and they were one of the more balanced teams in the league last year….probably the most balanced team that didn’t play in Maryville for home games, to be honest. It took Brook Bolles a bit to get settled in, but once he did, the Mules were almost unstoppable on offense. If Wes Bell can replicate the success he had at MWSU next year, this team will be a national Championship contender.

3. Northwest Missouri State (9-3)

Yes, the Bearcats made the playoffs in Rich Wright’s first year, keeping their record streak going for at least one more year (they have made the playoffs every year since 2004). However, the offensive struggles that plagued the team since Week 2 finally caught up to them, and the Bearcats uncharacteristically dropped 3 of their last 4 games. Granted, all three of those losses were against good to very good teams, but NWMSU hasn’t seen a slide like that since the 2001 season. The best defense in the land just wasn’t good enough to carry the team further in the playoffs. Even though they beat the Mules in the closing seconds in Week 5, the Bearcats limped most of the rest of the way.

4. Pittsburg State (8-4)

I thought the Gorillas were dead after their loss to Lindenwood. After that game, they lost a couple more tough games against Washburn and FHSU to fall to 2-4, but they at least showed some fight in those latter games, unlike the debacle against the Lions. After they blew their 17 point lead to FHSU, though, the team played the rest of the season with its collective hair on fire, and won six straight to close out the season. Head Coach Tim Beck shook up the coaching staff on Thursday, announcing that defensive coordinator Dave Weimers would be the offensive coordinator next year, and former LB standout Nate Dreiling would take over as defensive coordinator.

5. Central Oklahoma (8-4)

Like the Gorillas, the Bronchos started the season 2-4, but, unlike the Gorillas, all four of those losses were within a single score. However, one of the four losses in the first six games was against the Gorillas, so that’s why PSU got the four spot. After playing NWMSU to a touchdown for the second time in three years in Week 6, UCO never lost again, and won their second bowl game in three years to close out the season. Next year will be interesting, though, as they lose most of the production in the passing game to graduation this year.

6. Emporia State (6-5)

Perhaps the team with the most disappointing season, the Hornets took a step back on the defensive side of the ball, and Braxton Marstall and Co. couldn’t quite make up for it on the offensive side. After winning playoff games the past two years and bringing the majority of their offense back, I thought they would contend for the league title, but the defense fell from the #4 unit in the league to the #10 unit. Still, had back to back close losses to UCM and UCO swung the other way, who knows how their season could have ended?

7. Washburn (7-5)

The Ichabods started out the season great, winning five of their first six, with the lone blemish being a six point loss to NWMSU in the second game of the season. However, it seems teams had figured out the Washburn defense to a degree, and they lost four of their last five (including the Rivalry Week loss to ESU in the regular season finale) down the stretch. While it was a bit of a surprise they were invited to the Heat of Texas bowl over the ESU team that just beat them, the Ichabods absolutely made the most of it and dominated Angelo State in what should have been a virtual home game for the Rams.

8. Lindenwood (4-7)

The Lions ended up winning more games than they had since their first year in the MIAA, and the throat punch they delivered to the Gorillas in Week 4 was enough for me to put them just ahead of the Griffons, even though the Griffons won the head to head matchup between the two. Lindenwood took a good step forward under new Head Coach Jed Stugart, and while the depth in the trenches still wasn’t quite enough for them to take a huge step forward, Lions fans have to be pleased with the improvement over the past several years in that aspect of the program.

9. Missouri Western State (4-7)

Last year, long time Head Coach Jerry Partridge’s team started out 4-2, but lost their last five games to finish the season. It ultimately cost him his job, and Matt Williamson was named Head Coach in the offseason. In his first year, he led the team to another 4-2 start, but history repeated itself in 2017, and the Griffons ended the year on a five game skid. Starting QB Skyler Windmiller was injured early, and last year’s leading rusher Josh Caldwell (who was also leading the conference for most of this year) did not finish the year on the team. Defensively, though, the Griffons finished 5th in the MIAA in total defense, so if QB Dom Marino and RB Shamar Griffith can build upon the successes they had this year, the Griffons should be able to bounce back.

10. Nebraska-Kearney (3-8)

The Lopers tallied exactly one win in former Head Coach Josh Lamberson’s tenure. In Josh Lynn’s first year at the helm, they tripled that total. Not only that, the Lopers were much more competitive in most of their losses than they had been the prior two years. Lynn was expected to improve the Loper offense (even though Lamberson was an offensive-minded coach), and he did, as they improved from dead last in 2016 to tenth this year. However, the Lopers really improved on the defensive side of the ball, going from the seventh ranked unit in 2016 to the fourth ranked unit this year. There hasn’t been a whole lot to look forward to in Loperland in the previous two years, but Lynn did a good job in his first year in the MIAA.

11. Northeastern State (1-10)

The Riverhawks just had a rough, rough year. While they did beat Missouri Southern by a field goal to stay out of the cellar, they were beat by at least two scores in every other game this year. Their closest game in a loss was by 15 points to UNK. The lone bright spot this year was the play of WR Gary McKnight, who had the best year in the league by anyone not named JT Luper. McKnight finished with 1027 yards and 11 TDs (#2 in both categories behind Luper), and he led the MIAA in yards per catch (21.9ypc) by a pretty good margin over 2nd place UCM WR Kyrion Parker.

12. Missouri Southern State (0-11)

As rough as Northeastern State had it this year, the Lions endured even worse. They finished winless (the third team in the last four years to do so, after 2014 NSU and 2015 UNK), and they ended the year ranked last in the MIAA in both total offense and total defense. Even though the Lions were incredibly young this year, and were competitive in more games than the Riverhawks were, I ranked them last because of their defense, which ended the year ranked third worst in Division II, allowing 530 yards per game. If the Lions are going to improve next year, it has to be on that side of the ball, considering they’ve finished in last place in total defense the past three years.

Well, it’s been a wild year! Four new head coaches started the 2017 season and a first time brand new champion ended it. While it was disappointing for the league to be done this early for only the second time in more than a decade, it really was a fun year watching to see how the season unfolded, and if history is any indication, we should see the conference contend for a national title next year. Of course, past performance is never a guarantee of future success (or failure, for that matter), but there is just too much talent in this league for it to lay low for long. Even though an MIAA team didn’t make it to Kansas City this year, I hope MIAA fans make the trek to the game on December 16th anyway to support a fantastic event and show that we really do have the best fan bases in Division II. We are only 267 days away from the 2018 season! Until then, I hope everyone stays safe, supports their team, and enjoys the Holiday season with their loved ones to the absolute fullest! If I don’t see you in KC, I hope to see you next year!

(Last week: 3-1)
(Season: 59-13)
(Last season: 56-18)

As always, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to post below! You can also follow me on Twitter @IanD2FMIAA.

Submit "2017 Comes to a Close" to Digg Submit "2017 Comes to a Close" to del.icio.us Submit "2017 Comes to a Close" to StumbleUpon Submit "2017 Comes to a Close" to Google

Tags: None Add / Edit Tags


  1. Thepeman's Avatar